In class, we have examined how literature and art can depict
alternate histories, that when juxtaposed to official historical
narratives, allow readers new perspectives about the current reality.
We also have read parts of Represent and Destroy by Jodi
Melamed, Black, Brown, Yellow and Left by Laura Pulido, and The
City of Quartz by Mike Davis, to help us read literature and the
official narrative of history against the grain. This material has
informed our understanding of the texts and allowed us to consider
texts together in comparative essays that analyzed the effects of a
theme throughout two novels.
For this assignment, choose one of the following prompts.
1 Choosing one of the themes below and using two of the primary
texts that we have studied this quarter (Zoot Suit, Killer of
Sheep, Twilight, Rag Doll Plagues, Parable, Blade Runner),
write a comparative essay that:
analyzes how your chosen theme works in the two texts; and
develops an argument, based on your interpretation of the theme
within the text, about how the two texts comment on the theme;
uses Melamed’s, Pulido’s, or Davis’, concepts as a lens.
Possible themes: Violence/Death/Warfare; Sovereignty;
Knowledge Production/Epistemology; Others, check in for
approval and tips!
Some questions for you to consider:
1 How does reference to historical political/popular figures outside
of the text reconstruct a certain history within the text?
2 How does the theme of death/violence play out differently in two
primary texts? What effects does each approach to depicting
violence have when juxtaposed against official historical
3 Track how primary two texts use sovereignty/autonomy, and the
process of assigning autonomy, in order to comment
on/critique/edit the official historical narrative.
4 How do two primary texts depict potentialities for different
epistemologies (ways of knowing)? Different ontologies
(ways of being)?
A successful essay will:
2 Formulate a complex claim based on careful reading of the texts,
taking stakes and different points of view into account.
3 Examine connections between the primary texts.
4 Provide evidence thoughtfully to support ideas.
5 Articulate how the evidence supports your claim.
6 Summarize sparingly.
Refer to the EWP’s Outcomes. Outcomes 1-4 apply.
Format: Your paper should be 5–6 double-spaced pages with
1-inch margins, in 12-point, Times New Roman font. Ensure that
each page has a header with your last name and page number in the
top right-hand corner. MLA style citation and Works Cited page.
Audience: You’re writing an academic article for publication, but
you can assume that your audience has read the texts you’ve
chosen. Thus, your stakes will be about how to read the texts
Organization: It is up to you to decide how to structure your
argument, but generally speaking, your analysis will be most
sophisticated if you integrate evidence from the two texts into a
single argument rather than discussing each text in succession.
5 Using any of our primary texts as your inspiration, adapt the
form to re-tell your chosen history for contemporary
audiences. To make this historical rectification a manageable
task, you should choose a single episode from your chosen
official history, meaning you should focus on a specific event,
one political campaign, a single figure, or one group’s
experience of an event (for example, Black activists targeted
by COINTELPRO, a 1960’s FBI campaign to disrupt
organizations under the promise of national security).
Feel free to explore a personal connection with this assignment (for
example, convergence of family history and national history, or
history that focuses on other parts of the world), but larger social
implications are also required (for example, don’t “rectify” the
history behind a break-up). On the other hand, you could research
an historical episode and depict an adaptation. Outside research is
not required, necessarily, as in the case with cultural histories, for
example, but research might come in handy.
Depict the rectification within four 5.5”x8.5” panels (digital or by
hand), a three minute (minimum) video, a play (4 pgs), or a short
story (4 pgs).
In addition to the creative element, you must include a reflective
In your reflection, you will include useful background information
in order for your reader to assemble the pieces of your artifact.
You’ll also propose one interpretation or way of reading your text,
using the inspiration texts and at least one secondary source
(Melamed, Pulido, Davis). Basically, think of it as the introduction
that will accompany your artifact, like the one that precedes
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.
A successful essay will include:
7 A thoughtful introduction that provides the background
information necessary to appreciate the subject matter of
8 A claim about why/how your codex is well suited for adapting
your chosen historical episode
9 Evidence that supports your claim throughout: discussion of your
interpretation or, why you made the choices you did in
creating the text.
10 An explanation of how the evidence supports your claim. It is
not enough to merely present evidence without an
explanation. You must create the connections for the reader
between the evidence and the claim.
11 Discussion about why it mattered to you and why it should
matter to the reader.
Refer to the EWP’s Outcomes. Outcomes 1-4 apply.
Audience: Future 240 students will read your codex in order to
gain new perspectives on historical narratives.
Format: Your reflective essay should be 3-4 double-spaced pages
with 1-inch margins, In 12-point, Times New Roman font. Ensure
that each page has a header with your last name and page number
in the top right-hand corner.
You can use (Fig. 1) etc. to reference your panels and then include
them at the end of your paper, before your works cited. MLA style
citation and Works Cited page.
C LIT 240
Racism in Anti-Racism Era
Anti-racist movements and eras were witnessed in the U.S. in the 20th century especially
after the World War II and in most of the second half of the century spilling into the 21st century.
Through film, directors present different themes and observations regarding the movements that
have existed, the contemporary issues observed, and effects on the general agenda of anti-racism.
According to Melamed, the anti-racism time periods have advanced from racial liberalism
(1940s to mid-1960s) to liberal multiculturalism (1960s to 1990s), and neoliberal
multiculturalism (1990s to present) (p. 1). Zoot Suit (1981) and Killer of Sheep (1978) are two
films that present significant similarities in presenting the characteristics of the anti-racism time
periods. While Zoot Suit focuses mainly on how the minority especially people of Hispanic
heritage suffered from direct oppression during the riot period, Killer of Sheep details the
intrinsic struggles of African Americans in their economic and social development.
The racial identities of the main characters in the two films represent the disadvantaged
races and subgroups whose development had been undermined by the system. By starting with
primarily looking at the plots of the two stories, familiar racial stories are identified in them.
First, the racial stereotype of crime attached to men of Latino descent is seen in Zoot Suit. The
film which tells a story of wrongful conviction of a Hispanic gang presents the past and current
stereotypes stemming from the reality of racial identity in the 1940s. On the other hand, the
Killer of Sheep is a story of struggle and an attempt to escape poverty. This film highlights the
placing of minority races specifically African-Americans on the lower scale of the economic
spectrum. Therefore, the films are similar in the representation of stereotypes and identities of
the minorities stemming from the pre-war era.
The two films present the theme of self-expression but in different ways. Self-expression
here is used to show the minority races in the way they strive to empower or express themselves
in the public domain. In Zoot Suit, the Chicano gangs were famous for their fashion statement of
the zoot suits. In the film, the expression of the minority is seen through the fashion statement as
well as crime. This film differs from Killer of Sheep in which action happens slowly. In Zoot
Suit, the film alludes to the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Case (1942) at a time when the Chicano
culture had started to find ways to express themselves through the rebellious culture of gangs and
The form of racial expression in Killer of Sheep significantly differs from that of Zoot
Suit mainly because it presents the economic and daily life expression of the African-American
people as opposed to the expression in popular culture. In this film, nothing much changes and
the daily lives of the characters are documented through the dilemmas, they find themselves in
and the decisions they make. In this case, the protagonist Stan is not progressive, and the film
primarily shows stagnation in development and expression as well. Although Zoot Suit does not
necessarily show the minority gaining power through expression, it is progressive and shows an
active means of expression as opposed to Killer of Sheep where events happen slowly.
Both films also show the systemic injustices to the minority races. According to
Melamed, after the racial break, official anti-racism make it possible to look like anti-racist while
all along furthering the neoliberalism capitalism based on white supremacy and racialized bodies
(p. 7). This observation is seen in both films mainly through the types of struggles portrayed.
With the racial break came new ways of capitalism that seem to support racial justice but instead
propagate it within the systems. In Zoot Suit, for instance, the gang is arrested for a murder they
are not connected to. In the trial, the judge is apparently prejudiced and believes that they are
intended to prove a higher cultural lesson. Here, it is evident that the criminal justice system,
although allowing fair representation and seemingly fair trial process, is inclined towards
punishing this particular Chicano gang due to the racial stereotypes existent at the moment.
Similarly, in Killer of Sheep, the struggles of Stan, an African American man, and his
family are seen through the depiction of urban poverty existing in the neighborhood of the
African American community. The film which pieces together vignettes linking and telling a
story of poverty shows the unwilling government to address the poverty issues through the
provision of jobs and social amenities. The physical appearance of the facilities depicted in the
film shows the low-quality housing, lack of resources in the slaughterhouse, and the apparent
urge to kill a man for a fortune. That way, while Zoot Suit brings out injustices in the justice
system and the stereotyping that had gone into the justice system, Killer of Sheep shows the
negligence of the state to the minorities in their neighborhoods. All in all, the representations are
consistent with the modern day racial agenda in the United States.
The portrayal of racial fantasy is also a common issue in both texts. As witnessed today,
it may seem that the country is past racism as the racial covenants have been long done away
with and segregation no longer occurs in a significant way. However, Melamed argues that in the
post-war era, racism did not end but changed to a more silent and ignored way (p. 10). The
silence is deafening since the assumption that racism does not exist in the modern world evokes
ignorance. In both films, the directors present the characters as appearing in their daily activities
which are not directly interrupted or directed by racism and racial identities.
In Zoot Suit, the Chicanos go on with their lives of celebration, dance, and fashion
without depicting racism. However, upon arrest and trial, the intrinsic racism in the society
comes out. Similarly, in Killer of Sheep, the lives of the children go ahead as they play and are
evidently blind to the social and economic conditions surrounding them. The adults identify the
disadvantages they have in the society but are somehow okay with them. Stan says that although
he is poor, he cannot be too poor because he gives things to the Salvation Army (Killer of
Sheep). The acceptance of the disadvantaged state of the community propagates the idea of racial
fantasy whereby even the victims feel that nothing is wrong yet it is evident that the lack of
amenities and opportunities keeps them poor.
The element of sympathy as discussed by Melamed is seen in both films for the injustices
and the disadvantages that the characters face. Sympathy in both films is evoked in the audience
and directed to the minority races seen in the respective films. In Zoot Suit, one cannot help but
sympathize with the gang. More particularly, the conscience of Henry which is portrayed by El
Pachuco is seen to torment him mainly because he finds himself in a helpless situation whereby
the system had him (Zoot Suit). By viewing this film, different emotions of both anger and
sympathy are evoked. The mood of the film changes from a colorful, delightful one to a somber
mood. That way, the placement of the audience in the midst of the duel allows them to
understand the dynamics of being part of the disadvantaged.
On the other hand, the theme of death and break-down in the working-class family is
seen. This film presents sympathy more strongly that Zoot Suit in that the mood from the
beginning to the end of the film remains austere but not somber. Therefore, through the wry
jokes and moments contained in some of the vignettes, one cannot help but see the sympathy of
the director. The theme of death portrays sympathy for the main characters and is seen in the way
Stan is a shell of a functional being who works in a slaughterhouse mopping the floor and
preparing knives for the next kill and the one after that. Sympathy is further evoked in the scenes
of the children. For instance, in the scenes detailing the activities of the children the tone
maintained is intimate (Killer of Sheep). Stan looks tired and as a person who almost gives up in
life due to the struggles thus evoking sympathy. That way, Killer of Sheep seems to capitalize on
the sympathy of the audience by presenting the dire situations that the characters find themselves
The unity of both films is seen in the morality portrayed in both. The main lesson is, of
course, that racism is an intricate part of the American society especially the systems of
governance as seen in both films. First, in Zoot Suit, it is evident that although gangs are seen as
the evil of the society, racism rises far much above that evil. The arrest and detention of the gang
are seen as the eradication of a social menace, but at a closer look, the injustice in the justice
system is the worse evil in the society. Therefore, this presents the typical story of the hunter
becoming the hunted, only at an unfair way to propagate the idea of racism in the society. The
message here is loud and clear that the systems of governance may be the greater evil in the
society since they perpetuate injustice and intolerance.
A very similar portrayal of the community is seen in Killer of Sheep whereby the main
character Stan is portrayed as both the butcher and the butchered. The significance of presenting
Stan as a butcher is seen in the way he is as helpless and hopeless as the sheep he slaughters in
the slaughterhouse. The closing scene of the film which shows sheep heading for slaughter
through a narrow gate presents the mix of hope and despair as essentially, Stan and his
community mostly appear as the sheep which is being led to the slaughterhouse. Eventually, the
killer of sheep is seen as the system that encourages poverty for the African Americans.
Zoot Suit and Killer of Sheep both address racism in American society but the former
approaches the issue directly through the injustice system while the latter details economic
disadvantage of the minority rooting from racialized systems. These films show the narration of
racial fantasy which not only propagates racism but also makes it more dangerous. The films
highlight the systemic racism in the American society whereby although open racism has been
done away with, the intrinsic practices in the system propagate racial agendas. Racial liberalism,
liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism have allowed the movement to antiracist periods but incorporated racialized systems that advance the racist ideologies in the
Killer of Sheep. Directed by Charles Burnett, performances by Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore,
Charles Bracy, and Angela Burnett, Milestone Films, 2007.
Melamed, Jodi. “Represent and Destroy: Producing Discourses of Certainty with Official AntiRacism.” University of Minnesota Press, 24, 2011, pp. 1-50.
Zoot Suit. Directed by Luis Valdez, performances by Daniel Valdez and Edward James Olmos,
Universal Pictures, 1981.
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